State securities regulators pondering possible law enforcement action against E.F. Hutton & Co. as a result of the federal prosecution of the broker-dealer may be influenced by a consent order before them when they gather tomorrow in Calgary, Alberta, for a four-day annual meeting.
The order, signed Thursday in Atlanta, put Hutton's Georgia operations under a 12-month administrative probation that lets it go on doing business in the state under close supervision. One requirement is that Hutton tell each of its Georgia employes that customers who specifically request it may have checks drawn on local rather than distant banks.
The agreement also formalizes Hutton's pledge to implement reform recommendations made by former U.S. attorney general Griffin B. Bell after a special investigation commissioned by company Chairman Robert Fomon.
The main reason the order is expected to interest the regulators is that H. Wayne Howell played a leading role in negotiating it.
Howell is Georgia's assistant securities commissioner, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, and chairman of the association's Multi-State Investigative Group (MSIG), which made a five-month investigation after Hutton pleaded guilty May 2 to 2,000 felony counts in a check-kiting scheme and "closely monitored" Bell's investigation.
MSIG's other members are securities regulators from Colorado, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. The group will make a report at the Calgary convention, as will Griffin Bell.
The national significance of the consent order -- formally affecting only Georgia -- was also underscored by Hutton's decision to include Scott Pierce, the firm's president, and Warren Christopher, its lead outside counsel, as signatories.
Notably, too, the Georgia state securities law on which the order was based is a uniform statute followed by the securities laws of most states. The uniform statute allows for suspension or revocation of the license or registration of a broker-dealer convicted of a felony.
Several states initiated investigations after the Hutton guilty plea, but most put them on hold pending the MSIG report and pooling of other information -- mostly behind closed doors -- at the Calgary meeting.
Maryland is one of the states that began an investigation, it was learned, but securities commissioner and assistant attorney general Susan M. Rittenhouse declined to comment. Her counterparts in the District and Virginia, James Whitescarver and Lewis W. Brothers, respectively, declined to say whether they are making independent inquiries.
The Georgia order said: "It is not the responsibility of the commissioner to punish further a registrant like Hutton, particularly where, as here, the subject conduct does not involve a violation of the securities laws. Such punishment is an appropriate function of the judicial system . . . "
The order also said that it was "appropriate to note the reality" of "unofficial" punishments of Hutton, which "has had a distinguished 82-year history" and "substantially depends" on its reputation to attract and hold customers in a business in which competition is "intense."
Listed among Hutton's unofficial punishments were sustained "critical and negative publicity" in news media, and a large number of investigations, including two under way in the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"The over 16,000 employes of the company, the overwhelming percentage of whom had no involvement whatsoever in the practices that led to the plea," have been stigmatized by the association, the order said.